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Marine Corps Capt. Eric Martindale watches as his wife Lisa delivers their daughter Ashley Isabella at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio. (Photo: USO)
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USO Helps Deployed Dads See Their Children Enter the World

Friday, August 26, 2011

By Tom Sileo 

It has been a dangerous August for U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan.  Yet because of the USO's use of innovative technology, there are poignant signs of life in one of the world's most deadly places.

In July, the USO brought you the story of Marine Cpl. David Leland, who witnessed the birth of his son, Wyatt, via Skype from the USO Camp Leatherneck center in Afghanistan. 

"This was one of the most important days of my life," Cpl. Leland told the USO after witnessing his son's July 6 birth.

While reaching out to the war zone to see if any more "Skype babies" had been born since July, Timothy Kerr, USO Camp Leatherneck's programs manager, replied via e-mail almost immediately.

"Funny you ask," Kerr, who has a special place in his heart for our troops and their families, wrote on Aug. 24.  "We just had our second childbirth in two days; one was just a few minutes ago."

While connecting warriors serving in Afghanistan with their wives giving birth in hospitals around the world is becoming a more frequent occurrence for Kerr and Robin Symes, USO Camp Leatherneck's Center Manager, each and every request is treated with the utmost care and closest attention to detail.

"A Marine or any other service member will approach us or ask us how they can possibly watch the birth of their child," Kerr explained.  "I would tell them to just let me or Robin know and we will set them up in one of our two offices to give them total privacy."

Of course, it's difficult for men fighting a war thousands of miles from home to stay in touch with their wives, and in some cases, only find out their spouses are in the hospital several hours into labor.  That's why Kerr, Symes and the USO's Information Technology department in Arlington, Va., are always ready to spring into action when a military family's big moment arrives.

"I'm used to talking to the centers all the time," said Valerie Donegan, USO Director of Information Technology.  "It's almost becoming seamless."

Donegan, who is standing by 24/7 to work with satellite experts at 3Di Technologies to connect troops with their families, said the amount of troop experiencing "Skype births" has increased markedly at the USO's seven Afghanistan centers this summer, especially at USO Camp Leatherneck and USO Kandahar. 

"But each birth is still very special to all of us," she added.

Back at USO Camp Leatherneck, troops are being given all the necessary tools to experience a moment that will change their lives.

Spc. Justin James watches his daughter, Rylee, born via Skype on Nov. 21, 2010 at USO Kandahar. (Photo: USO)"We also provide them with a phone so they may call directly to the hospital or wherever they need to call," Kerr wrote.  "If the service member doesn't have a laptop then we supply them one of our laptops."

For Kerr and all the USO staff and volunteers making this magic happen for military families, seeing the look on a warrior's face when his child enters the world is a deeply emotional experience.

"It's an honor to be a part of this," Kerr wrote.

With the war in Afghanistan about to enter its 11th year, the USO knows many more U.S. troops will ask to see their children born via Skype.

"I know in the first week of September we will have another one," Kerr wrote.  "The service member approached me today about it and I just said 'come in and let me know and I will be glad to set you up!' "

It's hard to imagine being thousands of miles from the hospital room while your child is born.  But thanks to the tireless work of USO staff in Afghanistan and half a world away in northern Virginia, deployed service members making extraordinary sacrifices for our country are a little bit closer to their new bundles of joy.

"We are striving each day to bring a little of home to all those who serve here," Kerr wrote.  "I have said before: I love this job and wouldn't have it any other way."

* * *

Caption: Top right, Marine Corps Capt. Eric Martindale watches as his wife, Lisa, delivers their daughter Ashley Isabella at O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio. (Photo: USO) 



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